Editorial: Today’s Knoxville News Sentinel

Editorial: Late TCAP results earn failing grade for department

Posted May 27, 2014 at 3 a.m.

Tests administered to students under the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program matter.

Until they don’t.

Intentional or not, that was the message the Tennessee Department of Education sent last week to school systems in an 11th-hour notification that it would be tardy in releasing TCAP scores this year. School systems across the state were blindsided by the delay.

State law requires that TCAP scores be included as a portion — between 15 and 25 percent — of the second-semester grades for students in grades 3-8. Report cards were supposed to go home with Knox County students last Wednesday, the last day of classes. Administrators were not notified of the delay until late Tuesday. Because of the delay, final grades could not be calculated in time for report cards to be prepared for grades 3-8. Report cards went out as planned for grades K-2 and 9-12.

Knox County and other similarly affected systems asked for and received waivers from the Department of Education that allow them to calculate grades without using the TCAP results. Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre said the report cards would be sent to parents this week by mail, resulting in a substantial postage outlay that the school system had not anticipated.

Erin O’Hara, the state’s assistant commissioner for data and research, initially told school systems the results would not be ready until the end of this week. But on Friday she sent school systems a memo advising them the results would be released that afternoon.

In the initial notification memo, O’Hara said the delay was caused by additional analysis of the scores after a narrowing of assessments to align them to state standards. In previous years, the analysis was conducted after “quick scores” were sent to school systems for inclusion in the grades calculations.

This year, O’Hara wrote, the process was reversed because state officials wanted to “take appropriate measures to ensure the accuracy of the quick scores.”

O’Hara’s wrote that the analysis of the results of the high school End of Course exams was conducted first so graduation would not be affected, an indication that state officials knew of the timing issue but did not notify superintendents ahead of time.

The Department of Education has spent years hammering home the importance of standardized tests. In addition to contributing to each student’s grades, TCAP results are used in teacher evaluations, in grading the overall performance of individual schools and systems and for other purposes. Failing to get the scores to the school systems on time — after months of planning — is inexcusable and erodes trust in Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and the agency he runs.

Time is an important component of standardized tests. Third-graders in Tennessee have precisely 53 minutes — not a second longer — to finish part 1 of the TCAP Social Studies assessment. The Department of Education should be held to a similar standard. For the Department of Education, turning in this important assignment late is grounds for a failing grade.

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